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Four the Love of Writing: Embracing the 4 Act Structure

September 19, 2023

There is no correct way to write a novel. The world of storytelling has many methods and structures for formatting a plot – from the Hero’s Journey to the 7-Point Method. One of the most effective methods is an expansion on the traditional 3 Act Structure: the 4 Act Structure. This can help writers if they want to create a more uniform story with an exact midpoint. 

What is it?

The 4 Act Structure divides a story into four major segments: the setup, rising action, crisis, and resolution. It is essentially a more detailed version of the 3 Act Structure, which merges the rising action and crisis. 

Here is a comparison:

Act 4 Structure Act 3 Structure
Act One (0-25%) The introduction to your setting and characters. Establishes the normal world before shifting to a new world due to the conflict. (0-25%) The introduction to your setting and characters. Establishes the normal world before shifting to a new world due to the conflict.
Act Two (25-50%) Where the main character(s) face tests and trials before facing their greatest challenge at the Midpoint. (25-75%) Where the main character(s) go through a series of challenges, overcome the Midpoint, and face their darkest moment.
Act Three (50-75%) Where their plans gain focus. The main character goes through their darkest moment. (75-100%) The grand finale, where the conflict ends and the characters face the aftermath.
Act Four (75-100%) The grand finale, where the conflict ends and the characters face the aftermath.

The 4 Act Structure can be helpful if you find pacing with the 3 Act Structure difficult, or if you want a story with an exact midpoint.

Let’s take a deeper look into each act and what it contains.

Act One: Setting the Stage

Act One is the first 1-25% of your story and is made up is the setup, hook, and inciting incident. The theme of your story should be established here, acting as a powerful tool to connect with the audience.

The setup is where you introduce your main character and show your reader what their daily, ordinary world is like. The reader should get their bearing here, and know the “where” and “when” of the story’s universe by the end of this section.

The hook is found in the opening of the setup. It is what compels the reader to continue reading and immerse themselves in the world on the page. The reader’s attention can be gained by introducing an element of conflict or posing an intriguing question.

The inciting incident happens halfway through Act One and is the catalyst for your story. Known as a key event or the first plot point, it ignites the main conflict and propels your main character out of their comfort zone. They may resist this at first. From here, they are thrust into the story’s primary action. 

Act Two: Rising Challenges

Act Two makes up the 25-50% marks in your story. It includes the rising action, the first pinch point, the introduction of subplots, and the midpoint.

The rising action occurs as the plot thickens. Your main character begins to face challenges and complications that get in the way of letting them accomplish their goals. Crossing the threshold is a series of moments in the rising action where the main character must change plans and adapt to unexpected circumstances in their new environment.

Here is where you can begin introducing subplots in the story to add more characters and depth. Along with those, you should include the first pinch point. This is when your antagonist really gets the spotlight for the first time. Their power is revealed and the main character is reminded of the stakes at hand.

At the end of the second act is the midpoint. This is a pivotal moment where the main character faces their biggest trial. If they are successful, the narrative shifts from reaction to action, and the true capabilities of the characters come to the forefront.

Act Three: The Crisis

Act Three makes up the 50-75% marks in your story. It includes the second pinch point and the third plot point.

The second pinch point emphasizes the antagonist’s power again. The main character is reminded that, even though they got through the trial at the midpoint, they don’t have time to relax yet. Dangerous stakes are still in play.

The third plot point is a moment of crisis. The main character attempts to solve a problem but faces a painful failure, leading to self-doubt. Their journey up to this point seems to have been for nothing and the road ahead looks bleak. This marks the end of the third act and sets the stage for the final moments of the story.

Act Four: The Grand Finale

Act Four makes up the final 75-100% of your story. It includes the climax, climactic moment, and denouement. 

The climax occurs when the main character must face the antagonist one last time. They dig deep, drawing upon inner strength to come up with a new plan to confront the primary conflict. At this point, your story should have a renewed sense of purpose and determination.

The climactic moment is the defining moment that the climax leads up to. The main character must make a final decision, which will decide if they ultimately fail or succeed.

The denouement leads the reader through the aftermath of the climax and the events of the story. The dust settles, and the main character finds closure as they look to the future and what it holds for them.

***

To sum it up, the 4 Act Structure provides writers with a detailed roadmap, ensuring a gripping narrative from start to finish. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting, consider giving this structure a shot; it might be the framework you’ve been seeking.

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